'Four Girls' kick off event

DUBAI — Dubai launched the first Gulf Film Festival on Sunday with red carpet fanfare and high hopes for creating a local film industry that showcases regional talent.

Journos and filmmakers from across the Middle East flew in for the six-day event, which features six full-length features, 47 shorts and 16 documentaries from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Iraq.

The opening picture was “Four Girls,” by Bahraini director Hussein Abbas El Hulaibi. Preem, held in the sprawling Mall of the Emirates and attended by the cast, generated a local media frenzy.

The film follows four young women who open a car wash to the dismay of neighbors, parents and a group of obsessive Islamists.

“Four Girls” drew mixed reviews from critics, but the audience cheered and laughed as the protagonists overcame sexual discrimination, domestic abuse and religious fundamentalism.

Opening of the Gulf Film Festival comes just four years after the launch of the Dubai Film Festival, where the focus is on Arab as well as other international projects.

“No one has focused on the Gulf region,” said Saeed Al Nabouda, project manager of the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, the government body that oversees the two fests.

“A lot of people are not aware of the Gulf film industry,” he added.

In a bid to prod local directors, the Gulf Film Festival is awarding more than $100,000 in prizes in feature, documentary and short film categories as well as awards for student pics and script writers. Entries must be produced by Gulf nationals or deal with the Gulf region, and prize money must be used to produce a film within the U.A.E. for screening at next year’s Gulf fest.

This year’s event will also feature a number of out-of-competition films from around the world, with a total of 146 screened from 25 countries. Unlike the Dubai fest, the Gulf festival is free to the public. Organizers say 90% of the pics will be world preems.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more